Skip to main content

Full text of "The good of obedience in a culture of autonomy"

See other formats


The Good of Obedience in a Culture 
of Autonomy 

John P. Langan, SJ. 



32/1 • JANUARY 2000 



The Seminar is composed of a number of Jesuits appointed from their provino 
the United States. 

It concerns itself with topics pertaining to the spiritual doctrine and prac- 
tice of Jesuits, especially United States Jesuits, and communicates the results to the 
members of the provinces through its publication, STUDIES IN THE SPIRITUALIT 
JESUITS. This is done in the spirit of Vatican IPs recommendation that religious 
institutes recapture the original inspiration of their founders and adapt it to the 
circumstances of modern times. The Seminar welcomes reactions or comments in 
regard to the material that it publishes. 

The Seminar focuses its direct attention on the life and work of the Jesuits 
of the United States. The issues treated may be common also to Jesuits of other 
regions, to other priests, religious, and laity, to both men and women. Hence, the 
journal, while meant especially for American Jesuits, is not exclusively for them. 
Others who may find it helpful are cordially welcome to make use of it. 


William A. Barry, S.J., directs the tertianship program and is a writer at Cam- 
pion Renewal Center, Weston, MA (1999). 

Richard A. Blake, S.J., teaches film studies at Boston College, Chestnut Hill, 
MA (1998). 

Philip J. Chmielewski, S.J., teaches religious social ethics at Loyola University, 
Chicago, IL (1998). 

Richard J. Clifford, S.J., teaches Old Testament at Weston Jesuit School of 
Theology, Cambridge, MA (1997). 

Gerald M. Fagin, S.J., teaches theology in the Institute for Ministry at Loyola 
University, New Orleans, LA (1997). 

Richard J. Hauser, S.J., teaches theology and directs the graduate programs in 
theology, ministry, and spirituality at Creighton University, Omaha, NE 

Thomas M. Lucas, S.J., chairs the Department of Fine and Performing Arts and 
teaches therein at the University of San Francisco, CA (1998). 

John M. McManamon, S.J., teaches history at Loyola-Marymount University, 
Los Angeles, CA (1999). 

Edward T. Oakes, S.J., teaches theology at Regis University, Denver, CO 

John W. Padberg, S.J., is chairman of the Seminar, editor of STUDIES, and direc- 
tor and editor at the Institute of Jesuit Sources (1986). 

Timothy E. Toohig, S.J., a high-energy physicist, does research and administra- 
tion in Washington and lives at Georgetown University, DC (1997). 

The opinions expressed in STUDIES are those of the individual authors thereof. Parenthe- 
ses designate year of entry as a Seminar member. 

Copyright © 2000 and published by the Seminar on Jesuit Spirituality 
3601 Lindell Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63108 
(Tel. 314-977-7257; Fax 314-977-7263) 

The Good of Obedience 
in a Culture of Autonomy 

John P. Langan, S.J. 


32/1 • JANUARY 2000 

Of all things . . . 

Buzz words come and go. "Globalization" now reigns in the political and 
economic sphere; and since Seattle and the World Trade Organization, it has 
impinged on the public consciousness at least as a word, even if many United States 
citizens do not recognize it for the reality that it is because at first glance they regard 
this country as so self-sufficient. 

Globalization is more than a word if one works at the Institute of Jesuit 
Sources or with the Seminar on Jesuit Spirituality. Every week we send IJS books to 
countries in every continent. But much more than numbers makes us globally 
conscious. For instance, at present we are editing English versions of works originally 
in Latin, Tamil, and French. The authors and translators of those works and of 
others originally in English live at present in India, Belgium, Italy, and the United 

The Latin and Tamil are in three treatises by Robert de Nobili (1577-1656), 
the great Jesuit who, while living and working in India, urged that in proposing 
Christianity to the cultures of India, the Church make serious efforts to adapt itself 
to local customs as far as possible. Those treatises, newly translated by an American 
and an Indian Jesuit, will be published this year in a book to be entitled "Preaching 
Wisdom to the Wise." The French book, dealing with the Jesuit Constitutions, is 
being translated by one of our editors. The book is, as the author, a Belgian Jesuit 
says, a "sapientielle" reading of the Constitution. We are still looking for a good 
translation of the word "sapientielle." Do you have any suggestions? They will be 
gratefully received. In addition, we have had to keep in touch with other current 
authors who in recent months have been as far afield as Kenya and Indonesia. 

subscribers all over the world; and as we exchange STUDIES with our counterpart 
journals from all over the world, we find our perspectives broadened and deepened 
also. At least as vividly, guests who visit the IJS help to foster our global outlook. In 
the last two years, we have had visitors from at least the Dominican Republic, 
Belgium, Indonesia, Switzerland, India, Ireland, Canada, and England. (And others 
forgot to sign the guest book.) 

Not only space but also time. Differences there too enrich our imaginations 
and the ways in which we might view ourselves, the world, and the faith. A book 
written by Caroline Bynum dealing with a very different time does exactly that: The 
Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity, 200-1336 (Columbia University 
Press, 1995). The book does not treat the doctrine of the Resurrection, but rather the 
attitudes to the doctrine, the ways in which they developed, and the images used to 
think about and talk about both the Resurrection and the body that was to experi- 
ence it. Medieval people wondered about questions such as, "What could it mean for 


there to be a physical body when there is no more time?" We and they may ask the 
same questions, but the circumstances in which we ask them surely condition and 
differentiate the answers they gave and we give. 

For us as Christians and Catholics, globalization is also a reality that 
extends far beyond the space and time of our lives as Jesuits. The Church in its very 
name "Catholic" intends a universality of space and time, and never was this more 
true than in the present. But that is matter for comment in a later set of these 
ruminations. On that subject I shall leave you for now to ponder the implications of 
the simple statement that I read recently: "The most striking feature of Christianity 
at the end of the second millennium is that it is predominately a non- Western 

Speaking of time— and anniversaries— a Jesuit chronicle notes that in 1650, 
350 years ago, none of our priests in the Roman Province "was allowed to be 
indolent, slothful or lazy in administering the Sacraments since in this Holy Year an 
incredible number of pilgrims were coming from different nations to Rome." 

John W. Padberg, S.J. 

P.S. In the last (November 1999) issue of STUDIES, I repeated a request originally 

made in the September issue that our readers give us a brief personal reply to the 
question, "What challenges you as a Jesuit at the end of this millennium and at the 
beginning of the next?" The "Letters to the Editor" in this issue of STUDIES contains 
several responses to that question. 



Introduction 1 

The Dream of Rabelais 2 

The Demand of Ignatius 4 

Autonomy and Obedience in Contemporary Society 6 

Obedience in Contemporary Jesuit Life 8 

A Framework for Understanding Contemporary Practice . 16 
What Is the Good of Obedience? 21 

SOURCES: Pierre Favre to Those Going on Pilgrimage 26 



On p. 179 of the Catalogue of the American Assistancy 
for the year 2000, the telephone and fax numbers of the 
Institute of Jesuit Sources are incorrectly listed. We retain 
our customary numbers: 

Telephone: 314-977-7257 
Fax: 314-977-7263 

Please make these corrections immediately in your copy 
of the catalog, while the memory is still fresh. 

The Good of Obedience in a Culture 

of Autonomy 


This essay has gone through a long process of drafting and revising, 
in which it has been much helped by the disciplinary diversity of the 
members of the Seminar on Jesuit Spirituality as well as by their perceptive 
charity. It is not an essay in the sources or the history of Ignatian spiritual- 
ity, nor is it an exposition of canon law and the internal legislation of the 
Society on the topic of obedience. Rather, it is a reflection by a moral 
philosopher who specializes in social ethics and who has long been fasci- 
nated by the interplay between the religious and the secular in shaping 
contemporary moral thought. I hope that readers may find in it some new 
ways of understanding old values and that they may see connections with 
wider cultural and historical issues which are customarily left out of canoni- 
cal and formational discussions. 

My own experience of obedience has been within the Society of 
Jesus. I hope that a good deal of what I say will apply to other religious 
communities as well. But I thought it better to leave explicit references and 
comparisons to readers who are more likely to be knowledgeable about 
other communities than I am. Since I am focusing on obedience as under- 
stood and lived by Jesuits, who are, at least so far, an exclusively male 
community, the pronouns are unrelievedly masculine, a departure from my 
customary practice. 

An aspect of obedience that I do not discuss in the essay, though it 
has been important in my own life, is the element of personal care— patient, 
understanding, and profoundly charitable — which my superiors have shown 
me on numerous occasions over the years. 

Rev. John P. Langan, 5./., is Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Professor of Catholic 
Social Thought at Georgetown University. He recently edited A Moral Vision for 
America, a collection of Cardinal Bernardin's speeches and essays. Fr. Langan's address is 
Georgetown University, 3700 O Street N.W., Washington, D.C. 20057-0003. 

2 * John Langan, SJ. 

The Dream of Rabelais 

One of the most famous contemporaries of St. Ignatius was the 
enormously talented and entertaining French writer Francois Rabelais 
(c. 1483-1553), who made roughly the reverse of the Ignatian progress by 
becoming first a Franciscan, then a Benedictine, and finally leaving the 
cloister. Toward the end of the first book of Rabelais's fantastic parody of 
epic literature, Gargantua proposes to set up as the head of a monastery the 
monk who has helped him in combat. The monk declines to take charge of 
an existing monastery, and gave this as his reason: "How should I be able to 
govern others . . . when I don't know how to govern myself?" He insisted 
that the new abbey be set up according to his own devices. Gargantua 
acquiesced by endowing a large and splendid abbey, designed along the lines 
of the great chateaux of the Loire, such as Chambord or Chenonceaux, and 
placed in a parklike setting. The abbey is called Theleme, a name that 
transliterates the Greek word for will; its handsome and well-dressed resi- 
dents are called Thelemites. Rabelais tells us that 

[a]ll their life was regulated not by laws, statutes, or rules, but accord- 
ing to their free will and pleasure. They rose from bed when they pleased 
and drank, ate, worked, and slept when the fancy seized them. Nobody 
woke them; nobody compelled them either to eat or to drink, or to do 
anything else whatever. So it was that Gargantua had established it. In then- 
rules there was only one clause: 

because people who are free, well-born, well-bred, and easy in honest 
company have a natural spur and instinct which drives them to virtuous 
deeds and deflects them from vice; and this they called honor. When these 
same men are depressed and enslaved by vile constraint and subjection, they 
use this noble quality which once impelled them freely towards virtue, to 
throw off and break this yoke of slavery. For we always strive after things 
forbidden and covet what is denied us. 

Making use of this liberty, they most laudably rivalled one another in 
all of them doing what they saw pleased one. If some man or woman said, 
"Let us drink," they all drank; if he or she said, "Let us play," they all 
played; if it was "Let us go and amuse ourselves in the fields," everyone 
went there. 1 

The picture that Rabelais summons up is a happy one: desires are 
satisfied, order is maintained, virtue is affirmed, constraints are abolished. It 
suggests a benign theme park rather than a religious house, a Utopia of 
consumption and amusement rather than a community of shared commit- 

1 Francois Rabelais, The History of Gargantua and Pantagruel, bk. I, chap. 57, 
trans. J. M. Cohen (Harmonds worth: Penguin, 1955), 159. 

The Good of Obedience in a Culture of Autonomy 

ment and spiritual growth. What makes the fantasy interesting for us is that 
it provides a slogan for a world of idealized self-love, a slogan which serves 
as a characteristic enticement for many movements of liberation and social 
criticism in the modern world: "Do what you will." This slogan is itself an 
abbreviation of a famous injunction of St. Augustine, "Dilige et quod vis fac" 
(Love and do what you will). 2 

Augustine's dictum implies that once the heart is fully converted 
and once love is the dominant consideration in the mind of Christians, they 
enter into a form of life in which the direction to good follows from their 
own motivations and is internal rather than imposed from without. The 
Augustinian command, if taken in isolation, presupposes a world in which 
obedience to directions established by others is unnecessary and in which an 
identity of motivation and desire will lead people to harmony in action. The 
possibility that God or nature may, if unimpeded, bring us to the stable 
enjoyment of the good without our encountering any need to rely on the 
restrictive authority of social structures or institutions is an appealing one. 

The Thelemites strike us as especially fortunate in that they seem to 
enjoy the benefits of cooperation without having to endure the burdens of 
authority. The abbey of Theleme probably comes closer to a dream we 
might have about an unusually successful club or resort than to our expecta- 
tions of an effective polity or an economically successful firm. It offers us a 
superficial and easily imagined form of a society free of the efforts and 
struggles that arise from deep commitments to home and to country, to faith 
and to transcendent values. A reader of Rabelais may well be right in telling 
us that we are taking too seriously what is really meant to be a satirical 
fantasy. But for the purposes of this essay, my suggestion is that we regard it 
as a secular dream rooted in the Christian hope of Augustine and expressing 
a widespread wish to transform that hope so that it matches our desires, 
rather than transforming ourselves and our desires so that we match the 
hope of happiness that is to be realized in the heavenly city. 

The vision of a society in which our desires are easily and harmoni- 
ously satisfied does not yield one determinate model or plan for the future 
of society; it is too vague and indefinite for that. But it is capable of assum- 
ing different shapes in different intellectual and social contexts. The dream of 
a world without obedience, a world of anarchic fulfillment can be danger- 
ously destructive, encouraging conflict and revolution; or it can be seen as a 
moral demand of a humanity set free from the constraints of traditional 

St. Augustine, In Epistolam Joannis ad Parthos, 7, 8; Patrologia Latina, 35:2033; 
this is also available in an English translation by John W. Rettig, in Fathers of the 
Church, no. 92 (Washington D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1995), 223. 

4 * John Langan, SJ. 

society and the tyranny of custom. As modern moral and political philoso- 
phy moves forward from Hobbes through Rousseau to Kant and Mill, 
passing through the revolutionary crises of seventeenth-century England and 
eighteenth-century America and France, the ideal of the individual set free 
from artificial or irrational bonds and empowered to become autonomous 
and self-determining emerges as one of the most powerful and most attrac- 
tive objectives of an enlightened or modern society. Even the terrible events 
of the twentieth century have not destroyed a hope that a modern Theleme 
could be achieved, whether through a contractual agreement reached by 
rational agents or through some form of social or genetic engineering. 

But this ideal or dream is not articulated merely on the higher levels 
of philosophy and jurisprudence; it is powerfully present in contemporary 
popular culture wherever "doing one's thing" is taken to be an obvious and 
important value and wherever traditional institutions are disparaged and 
personal fulfillment sought after, as defined by the individual. It is present in 
rugged individualists and in flower children, in business executives and in 
consumers, in tourists and progressive pedagogues, in would-be liberators of 
dependent societies and in proponents of self-help movements. The possibil- 
ity that society can be organized so that each of us can do precisely what he 
or she wants to do remains an important object of hope and desire. This is 
true even when people fear to articulate such hopes and desires because, 
when stated baldly, they seem so naive and so vulnerable to dismissal and 
derision. The possibility remains attractive even though it resists precise 
formulation. It is, particularly in its articulation by Rousseau, one of the 
shaping aspirations of the modern mind. 

The Demand of Ignatius 

If one characterizes the abbey of Theleme as a regime of with- 
drawal, leisure, and autonomy without discipline, one underlines elements 
that are clearly at odds with Ignatius's conception of the call of the King in 
the Spiritual Exercises and the Society of Jesus' conception of itself. For 
Ignatius proposes a regime, a way of life that is marked by engagement, 
strenuous activity, and obedient service. The projects of individuals are to be 
subordinated to such overriding goals as the glory of God and the salvation 
of souls. These, of course, are not ordinary goals such as energetic and 
ambitious people set for themselves, like winning a marathon or making a 
million dollars. Such goals require specific steps for their realization. The 
goals that Ignatius has in mind are compatible with a wide range of means 
and intermediate conditions. They are also goals that are not primarily 
within the scope of human agency and human planning. But in the mind of 
Ignatius they are not so generic or so abstract that they are without influ- 

The Good of Obedience in a Culture of Autonomy 

ence on the direction and content of our decisions. It is clear from the 
course of his life and from the context of the Spiritual Exercises that Ignatius 
expects the projects of individuals to be integrated within the ecclesial 
community, which needs committed individuals who will give their working 
lives to meeting its needs for leadership, for teaching and scholarship, for 
ministry and service. 

The first expectation in accepting the Ignatian demand is that 
individuals will be willing to join their lives and their projects under an 
authority capable of coordinating and integrating their individual efforts into 
the larger but less-than-ultimate purposes of meeting the needs of the Church 
and the various communities it serves. This commitment to meeting the 
needs of the Church is a decisive first step in shaping a way of life that will 
be more specific than doing God's will or observing the two great command- 

The second expectation is that the individuals who commit them- 
selves to this life of service and obedience will at the same time be ready to 
undertake a spiritual discipline in which they will, with the help of God's 
grace, modify and transform their desires. They are not treating this way of 
life as an instrument for satisfying desires that are considered as given and 
fixed and effectively beyond criticism. Rather, they are offering themselves to 
be transformed by the experience of following Christ in the search for God's 
will. In line with this second expectation, the activity of the community is 
not evaluated by its confor- 
mity to the expectations of — ^^— — — — ^— — — — ^^^~^^^~ 

the individual agent or by its In contemporary popular culture "doing 
promise of satisfying the de- ^ M „ {$ tfj| ^^^ ^ . 

sires or the aeent; but, rather, r 

, i r i • tant value. 

the goals or the community 

provide a basis for criticizing, __^ — — __ 
assessing, and modifying the 

desires, the habits, and the actions of the individual members. The individu- 
als who constitute the community of service will then need a process of 
formation in which they examine critically their personal desires and the 
affective and social influences that have shaped these desires. They will also 
have a continuing need for times of self-scrutiny and prayerful reflection in 
which that task of critical examination can be renewed and made effective. 
For Ignatius, as for Augustine, the injunction to do what you will can be 
regarded as realistic and prudent guidance only when the desires and the will 
of the person have been transformed by charity and by the desire to follow 
Christ. In the case of Ignatius, this transformation is expected to occur when 
the person has made the Spiritual Exercises. 

6 * John Langan, SJ. 

Autonomy and Obedience in Contemporary Society 

The contrast I have been sketching between the dream of Rabelais 
and the demand of Ignatius brings before us an echo of the "culture wars" of 
the sixteenth century, in which yearnings to be free from traditional reli- 
gious authorities led to collisions of established religious and social commu- 
nities and often with the commands of political authority. The contest 

between freedom and authority, between 
__ _^___ _^ __ mmmm autonomy and the requirements of obedi- 
ence, between conscience and tradition, 
There are social Spaces for has continued down through the interven- 
personal decisions that m g f° ur centuries. Autonomy has come to 

can he heneficially or vir- be a dominant concern, what Charles Tay- 

tUOUsly filled in ways that lor would cal1 a "hypergood," in terms of 

are not simply applica- which a wide ran § e of ethical issues and 

+;„„<• ~~ „~.*„*,<-;«*,, ~~ ;~ social roles are assessed and reconceived. 3 

tions or extensions or in- _ r , . . 

r In extensive areas or the law and political 

creases of autonomy. ,., . „ . 

J * lite, in culturally innovative areas or artis- 

^^^^^^_^^^^^^__^_^_ tic creation and technological invention, in 

sexual behavior, in places where entrepre- 
neurs are anxious to promote economic change, in periods of dissatisfaction 
with central authority and its attendant bureaucracies, in generational 
conflicts within families, in churches that reject hierarchical mediation and 
affirm the primacy of the Spirit present in the local congregation — in all 
these, autonomy has come to be one of the most widely acknowledged and 
deeply cherished values of modern societies. 

But there are also vast stretches of modern life in which the place of 
autonomy is either insecure or unclear or else regarded as clearly secondary. 
Most businesses, the military, nursing homes, schools, government agencies, 
and correctional facilities are all organized according to goals or principles 
that may leave some place for autonomy but that, as an essential part of 
their functioning, impose significant constraints on it both internally and 
externally. In fact, obedience is a notion more likely to be at home in these 
and similar settings, where it makes sense to borrow the language of the 
military and to speak of a "chain of command," than in a society composed 
purely of marketplaces and voluntary associations. But given the divisions 
within our culture, the acknowledged importance and value of obedience 
within such institutions as the military and bureaucratic agencies and 
organizations, whether these are public or private, is not likely to produce a 

3 See Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity 
(Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989), 63-73. 

The Good of Obedience in a Culture of Autonomy 4* 

positive response among those who most value autonomy and who look 
with considerable suspicion on the institutions that demand and exemplify 

Furthermore, such a way of trying to make obedience intelligible 
runs the risk of turning it into a purely instrumental value contributing to 
the more efficient attainment of institutional purposes. But obedience as a 
significant religious and cultural value cannot be simply a mechanism for 
getting people from job A in Minneapolis to job B in Indianapolis— a point 
that spiritual writers have understood down through the ages when they 
connected it with the search for the will of God and with the gift of the self 
to causes, values, persons, and communities that are seen to be of greater 
worth than the individual self. But if obedience, conceived as a social 
instrument for allocating resources and as an institutional means for effec- 
tively carrying out tasks, does not give us an adequate appreciation of the 
religious meaning of obedience, it is a way of thinking which helps to show 
that even if we think of the matter in purely secular terms, the culture of 
autonomy is far from giving us a complete or comprehensive model for 
complex modern societies and the values that they need to affirm and 
practice. There are social spaces for personal decisions that can be beneficial- 
ly or virtuously filled in ways that are not simply applications or extensions 
or increases of autonomy. 

Once we come to see that autonomy cannot be made to serve as a 
unique criterion of institutions and that its place as an overriding or supreme 
value for contemporary societies can be contested, we should not, on the 
other hand, rush to denigrate it. Autonomy is often invoked to protect the 
selfish desires of individuals for petty or tawdry objects, and the appeal to 
autonomy often signals a desire on the part of the well-off and the comfort- 
able not to be bothered by the needs of their neighbors or to be burdened 
or constrained for the good of society at large. But still, we must recognize 
that appeals to autonomy also serve to remind us of the urgent need to 
protect the minds and consciences of persons from the intrusive power of 
the state and the "big battalions," as well as from the pressures and resent- 
ments of a conformist or intolerant society. The idea of autonomy can be 
used to legitimate selfishness, but it retains close and powerful connections 
with intellectual and moral projects that aim at liberating human beings 
from closed and oppressive social systems and enabling them to take respon- 
sibility for their own lives and to contribute to the common good of a free 

We also need to be candid in recognizing the limitations and the 
historic failures of cultures in which obedience has been a central value. The 
ability of authoritarian and militaristic regimes to exploit the ethos of 

8 * John Langan, SJ. 

obedience and the frequency with which obedience is enforced by coercion 
and fear rather than allowed to arise from personal commitment are factors 
that make many of our secular colleagues and fellow citizens wary of 
entrusting important values to organizations and cultures in which obedience 
is a dominant element. In addition to the broad social, political, and histori- 
cal questions that a demand for obedience raises, there are also the particular 
negative personal experiences with obedience that people have had within 
organizations ranging from the U.S. Army to HMOs. These experiences can 
be frustrating and absurd; they can also be demoralizing and dangerous. Our 
society generates numerous stories ranging from Catch 22 to Dilbert, in 
which obedience leads to farcical results and unfits us for dealing with the 
stupidity and selfishness of leaders and rulers. Even when their arguments 
run thin or lead to inappropriate conclusions, the defenders of the culture of 
autonomy can wage a fierce and often telling polemic against the proponents 
of obedience and authority. 

Obedience in Contemporary Jesuit Life 

If we are to get beyond pointing to the limitations of autonomy and 
if we are to offer some positive account of religious obedience to persons 
who have been largely shaped by the culture of autonomy, we need to 
sketch something of the contemporary practice of obedience in Jesuit life. I 
will follow this by offering a general framework for thinking in philosophi- 
cal terms about the practice of obedience. In carrying out these tasks, I will 
not proceed by reflection on the theology and canon law of religious life or 
by explicating relevant Jesuit documents, though I will refer to them. These 
documents have primarily an internal audience of people who share a very 
large number of experiences and assumptions and who have a common 
religious commitment and a shared institutional framework both in the 
Society and in the Catholic Church. The audience that I have in mind is 
not, however, purely external to the Society and the Church, since the line 
between the culture of autonomy and the culture of obedience runs through 
the hearts and minds of my brother Jesuits and many other religious who 
have had to struggle with living and understanding the life of the vows in 
Western societies in the late twentieth century. Much of what I say about 
our current practice may strike them as banal or obvious; but I venture on 
an approach that relies heavily on description of basic features of obedience 
that are often taken for granted, hoping thus to move the discussion beyond 
the influence of certain stereotypes beloved of both critics and defenders of 
obedience. The remarks that follow reflect the limitations of my own 
experience, but they are not intended to be autobiographical or merely 

The Good of Obedience in a Culture of Autonomy 

Most Jesuits of my age (I entered the Society in 1957) or older were 
shaped by a style of novitiate and seminary training that was highly disci- 
plined and provoked most of us to think of our life together as monastic or 
quasi-military in its drastic restrictions on personal freedom. In the early 
years what we did was regulated hour by hour and day by day. Those 
outsiders who remember the 

lifestyle of those days and —— ™ ^ ^^~^~^^^^^^"^^^~ 

those whose views of Jesuits The line between the culture of au- 

have been strongly influenced tonomy and the culture of obedience 

by the military background rum t }j roug Jj fa }, earts an d minds of 

and military metaphors of St. brother Jesuits and many other 

Ignatius may harbor the nlu- 7 - . » -, ; i . 1 

? , / . ,. r . ... religious who have had to struggle 
sion that esuit lire is still . , ,. . T T ,. , 

i . , . , , with living and understanding the 

lived in such a regimented ° f ._ r ° 

style and that superiors rou- life of tbe VOWS. 

tinely issue commands requir- ^ _ _ _ 
ing instant obedience under 

pain of sin. More recent visitors, on the other hand, and persons who are 
struck by the diversity of opinions and activities among Jesuits may wonder 
whether there is indeed any effective authority governing the lives of Jesuits 
that they are ready and willing to obey. 

Here it is useful to recognize the difference between 

a. those regulations which a superior or official of the community issues 
in order to resolve problems of coordination in a large institutional 

b the decisions which a superior makes and the policies which he 
adopts about the values to be expressed in the life of the community 
and the work of its members, and 

c. the commands which he issues to individual members of the commu- 
nity with regard to serious matters in the expectation that they will 
be obeyed. 

All of these can be expressed in the imperative mood, and they may all 
proceed from the same individual; but they are different in purpose and in 
their religious gravity. In a non-Thelemite religious community, all three 
sorts of directives will be present as factors in the awareness of the commu- 
nity and its members; but they normally apply to different kinds of issues 
and areas of life. 

If one looks back over the thirty-five years since the days of Vatican 
II and the Thirty-First General Congregation of the Society (1962-65), the 
most visible changes relevant to the life of obedience have taken place in the 

10 •$• John Langan, SJ. 

regulations governing community life and in the decisions and policies 
shaping the community and its work. To put matters in a compact and 
oversimplified way, the number of regulations has been greatly reduced and 
toleration of exceptions to them has significantly increased. The regulations 
are also usually expressed in a more pragmatic and flexible way. In a large 
community, for instance, one now shows up for dinner within certain 
determined hours, not at a time fixed for all. Living according to a set 
schedule and doing the same thing at the same time with one's brothers in 
the community is not and never has been essential to religious obedience; 
but it was often thought to manifest and to promote a culture of obedience, 
which is why it was thought especially suitable for seminaries and houses of 
formation. It was never really compatible with Ignatius's recognition of the 
variety in the gifts and calls of individuals or with his pragmatism with 
regard to the choice of means in our ministries. On the other hand, the 
issuing of regulations in a large organization or even a sizeable community 
has many generally beneficial effects, some of which are more attractive to 
the regulators than to the regulated. Regulation can further standardization 
and predictability, and it can resolve many problems of coordination. So 
even if the Society were in the next century to become an electronic net- 
work of widely dispersed small communities, regulations of some sort would 
still remain useful and necessary. 

The making of decisions and policies regarding community life and 
the work of institutions sponsored or conducted by the religious community 
is a vitally important task for religious superiors, as it would be for the 
leaders in any comparable organization. Recasting ministries so that they are 
available to and supportive of the poor and the marginalized, providing 
support and refuge for persons whose human rights are in jeopardy, commit- 
ting substantial resources to the care of elderly and frail Jesuits in a period of 
lengthened lifespans, discontinuing ministries that are no longer viable— these 
are all decisions that contemporary superiors take, though usually only with 
much prayerful reflection. These decisions often present subjects, both as 
individuals and in groups, with prospects that can be intensely painful and 
be interpreted as a rejection of their past efforts. But they are at the same 
time decisions that they have made a prior commitment to obey. 

In the post-conciliar period, it has come to be recognized that for a 
wide range of such decisions, preliminary processes of open discussion and 
formal and informal consultation are useful and even necessary. Working on 
a common task usually requires a shared understanding; when the tasks are 
complex and the criteria of success are multiple and varying, the procedures 
usually employed in a vertical model of organizational behavior, in which 
information travels up and decisions travel down, are often pathetically 

The Good of Obedience in a Culture of Autonomy *k 11 

inadequate. Even if consensus cannot be achieved in difficult cases, it is 
widely recognized that the effort to achieve it through open discussion and 
wide consultation is worthwhile and leads to a better-informed and more 
intelligent implementation of the decisions. 

It would be idle to pretend that this has led to the transformation of 
the Society into a participatory democracy of the type favored by some 
political theorists and by assorted radicals of the sixties. But it is safe to say 
that there has been a significant shift in the direction of providing more 
information, of attempting to build common understanding, and of encour- 
aging comment and feedback. This shift has been modeled on a global scale 
by the four general congregations that have been held since Vatican II, but it 
is also seen locally in a clear and direct form where Jesuits conceive of their 
work together as the function- 
ing of a team. But it can be 

found wherever the power to The making of decisions and policies 

lead is seen as including a sig- regarding community life and the 

nificant emphasis on the work of institutions sponsored or con- 

power to persuade. 4 The ducted by the religious community is 

power to persuade is essential . 11 . . . » r »• . 

r , r , i r i a vitally important task tor religious 

whenever the work or the . . , , , r , , , 

T r superiors, as it would be for the lead- 

Jesuit community requires tor r , J . 

its realization a high degree of ers ln an V comparable organization. 

collaboration with non-Jesuits. mmm ^ __ 
In contemporary settings, 

many of the non-Jesuits who are involved in the work are likely to be as 
intelligent and as highly educated as the Jesuits themselves; they will be 
understandably reluctant to accept exercises of authority that they regard as 
arbitrary or unaccountable; they will have interests and concerns that they 
feel morally bound to protect, for instance, the welfare of their spouses and 
children. As participants in the culture of autonomy in many societies 
around the world, they will more readily challenge the authoritarian style of 
governance that has often flourished in the culture of obedience. 

While regulation has declined and persuasion and discussion have 
increased in importance in the daily lives and the work of most Jesuits as 
well as in the shaping of policy, it would be a major mistake to think that 
the commands of superiors no longer function as a central means of resolv- 
ing pressing issues in the lives of individuals and communities. Obedience 
does not need to be explicitly invoked very often; it remains a decisive factor 

4 This point figures prominently in the influential work of Richard Neustadt, 
Presidential Leadership (New York: Wiley, 1960). 

12 ^ John Langan, S.J. 


in the context of many deliberations and exchanges between superiors and 
subjects. It is simply presumed that major superiors or provincials will be 
able to assign their subordinates or subjects to new tasks or to new loca- 
tions, that they and local superiors will direct people to behave in ways 
intended to mitigate or resolve disputes which may have arisen within a 
particular community or work, that superiors at both levels will order 
subjects to take steps to deal with health or addiction problems, that higher 
superiors will forbid people to act in ways which are deemed to be injurious 
to the Church or to the Society. There may, of course, be more specific 
commands; but the categories I have just mentioned probably cover most of 
the situations in which members of the Society have felt that they were 
expected or required to obey. Superiors would almost certainly view non- 
compliance with their directives in these and similar matters as a failure in 
obedience, even when they do not construe it as a direct violation of the 
vow of obedience. 

We should also notice that some of the broad categories I have 
mentioned are matters on which educated Christians of intelligence and 
goodwill routinely have disagreements. It is clear that a Jesuit who engages 
in sexual harassment of his female colleagues or who is unable to complete a 
full day's work because of alcoholism is acting in a way which is injurious 
to the Society and to the Church, as well as to himself and the values he is 
vowed to promote. But it is far from clear in all cases that a Jesuit who 
truthfully accuses local political authorities of corruption and abuses of 
power is acting in a way which harms the Society and its work, even though 
his outspokenness may well put some aspects of the work at risk. 

In many cases, of course, the pattern is not that the superior 
commands and the subject obeys, but rather that the subject proposes or 
requests permission and the superior responds to the proposal by granting or 
denying permission. 5 

Here we must remember that a terminological ambiguity arises from the 
difference between the ways in which philosophy talks about "the subject" and the ways 
in which canon law and Catholic writers about religious life talk about "the subject." Both 
of these in turn are different from the common use of "the subject" to refer to the topic 
one is discussing or investigating, as when a judge or a teacher admonishes a witness or a 
student, "Stick to the subject at hand." In philosophy "the subject" is the singular person 
(who may be first person in the style of Descartes or third person) who thinks or acts or 
feels or questions or uses language or chooses. The term is normally used in a generalizing 
way to discuss features that are common to human beings rather than those that are 
proper to this particular individual. It usually refers to the person who stands in the 
subject position of a declarative sentence when the verb is in the active voice; for example, 
/ chose to teach at Loyola University," or "He thought that going to the missions was a 
way to respond to the general congregation." The term is commonly used to refer to the 

The Good of Obedience in a Culture of Autonomy ^r 13 

This too is an exchange structured by the vow of obedience; but it 
allows for considerable initiative on the side of the subject, and it takes into 
account that in many cases the subject is much more knowledgeable about 
the various possibilities in a given field of research or work situation and 
about their likely advantages and disadvantages. Particularly with regard to 
undertaking new academic or professional positions, Jesuits are now expected 
to take exploratory initiatives and, in a timely fashion, to bring possible 
positions for consideration by superiors. At the same time, they are not to 
take the approval or permis- 
sion of superiors for granted, ^ ^ mmmm ^^^^— ^^^~— 
even though they may have Obedience does not need to be explic- 
to make some decisions them- { t \y i nvo ked very often; it remains a 

selves when the opportunity decisive factor in the context of many 
for effective communication deliberations and exchanges between 

with superiors is restricted or t 7 . . 

. r superiors and subjects. 

when emergency situations 

arise. 6 The superior may then ■bh^h^mmh^^muhmmi 
be in the position of ratifying 

a decision that a subject has already taken or perhaps of approving a plan for 
an institution that he does not fully understand. Such a situation is likely to 
require humility and trust on both sides of the exchange. 

In the contemporary Society it is more possible than it used to be 
for both sides to admit to asymmetries of knowledge and experience; a 
superior who pretended to omnicompetence would diminish his credibility 

person as a center of thoughts, beliefs, feelings, desires— one who is related other subjects 
co-inhabiting the world. This usage differs from the sense of "the subject" found in canon 
law and then in literature about religious life, in which "subject" is contrasted with 
"superior" (and not with "object"). This second usage is derived from a monarchical or 
hierarchical organization of society and, simply by itself, presents problems for anyone 
who thinks about religious life from the standpoint of the culture of autonomy. Nonethe- 
less, because of its familiarity and its place in the legal system of the Church, it is the term 
I will use in this paper to refer to ordinary members of religious communities who have 
no executive or judicial authority. To talk about "the subject" of decisions and choices, 
that is, the one who decides or chooses, I will (at least provisionally) use the term 

u n 


This possibility was recognized by St. Ignatius himself. It has been an essential 
part of the life of the Society over the centuries that its members were expected to go to 
distant places and then, within the limits set by quite broad and flexible directives, to 
improvise what actually needed to be done. An early example of this is found in a letter 
Ignatius wrote in February 1555 to Fr. Joao Nunez Barreto, who had been nominated 
patriarch of Ethiopia; a translation of the letter is available in Letters of St. Ignatius, ed. 
William Young, S.J. (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1959), 381-90. 

14 4- John Langan, SJ. 

and his effective authority. Candor about these asymmetries is one factor 
that differentiates the practice of obedience in contemporary culture from 
what prevailed during those eras when it could reasonably be assumed that 
superiors and leaders routinely had greater access to information and a 
broader range of experience and competence than those who were called to 
obey. The virtue of obedience cannot require the subject to pretend that the 
superior knows things of which he is manifestly ignorant. 

But what is at stake in many situations is not simply the use and 
interpretation of information on which a decision is to be based; it is a 
matter of deciding which of several possible goals and competing values are 
to have priority. Here the subject needs to acknowledge that the superior is 
entrusted with authority for the good of the community and of the Church 
as well as with responsibility for the personal and religious development of 
the subject. It is surely reasonable to think that his judgments and decisions 
can add important, often crucially important, considerations to the delibera- 
tions and desires of the subject. The superior is often unlikely to know 

which is the best graduate program in phy- 
_«« __ ««^^^^^^^^^_ sics or economics or sacramental theology; 

but it is his responsibility to decide wheth- 
It is Still true that indivia- er approving a particular person's request 
ual men and communities to undertake graduate studies will be for 

continue to make great the good of the Society or of a particular 

sacrifices of cherished pro- apostolate, such as higher education or 

jectS and personal prefer- retreat ministry, and whether it will be for 

ences because superiors the iong-range good of the individual him- 

have made decisions that self ; The P ractice . of obedience iS , incr f s ' 

» . n inely seen to require attention to the lnror- 

require these sacrifices b . . .7 . . , . 

. , ,. j . mation that subjects have about their capa- 

either directly or in- , .,. . , ,, , 

J bilities, interests, needs, problems, and pos- 

y % sibilities for cooperation in various aposto- 

lates. Neglecting this information is un- 
likely to lead to better decisions or better 
outcomes. At the same time, flexibility and generosity have to be present in 
the subjects, who may have to postpone or subordinate their own interests 
or preferences for the sake of goods and needs that the superior judges to be 
more urgent or more worthwhile; the superior is, of course, expected to 
make these judgments in line with the traditions and values of the Society 
and with a view to the common good of the Society and the Church, and 
certainly not with a view to enhancing his own interests. 

What these considerations point to is the transformation of a 
situation of command and obedience into a richer and more complex process 

The Good of Obedience in a Culture of Autonomy 4* 15 

of exchanging information and discerning reactions on both sides with the 
resolution of the matter still remaining in the hands of the superior. This 
process will not always lead to convergence and can often be experienced as 
frustrating and disillusioning. But if it is carried on honestly and patiently, 
even the negative moments that make it difficult can also be seen as positive 
because of the ways in which they build a more realistic understanding of 
the points of view of both superior and subject ("Yes, I do have an addiction 
that diminishes my work and my apostolic effectiveness," or, "I did not 
understand why you were so reluctant to do what I proposed") and because 
of the opportunities that they provide for the expression of mutual respect 
and fraternal charity. 

The result of these changes, which have some precedents in the 
early experience of Ignatius and his followers in the years before the Society 
became identified with its global institutional network, is that the culture of 
the Society has become less authoritarian. Consultation, representation, and 
open discussion are routinely practiced and recognized as important aspects 
of the life of the Society. The making of important decisions about institu- 
tional policies is no longer treated as closed to discussion and assessment by 
communities; decisions about personnel, on the other hand, are normally 
more tightly held, since they often involve confidential information. Stereo- 
types and fantasies about rigid systems of control executed by the general 
and his advisers, about arbitrary commands issued by petty tyrants, and 
about the unquestioning, quasi-automatic responses of their subjects are now 
seen as travesties of the authentic practice of obedience and as ways of 
discrediting the work and the spirituality of the Society. 

Some members and friends of the Society still hanker after an earlier 
period in which the Jesuits were widely perceived as the "marines" of the 
Church, an elite body of 
shock troops ready for rapid 

deployment wherever needed. j n the contemporary Society it is 

Even if this image is no Ion- more possible than it used to he for 

ger appropriate for most deci- hoth $ides tQ admk tQ asymmetr i es f 

sions shaping the lives of Jesu- knowledge and experience; a superior 

its, it is still true that individ- ; j j . . _^ . 

. . who pretended to omnicompetence 

ual men and communities 7 , y . . . r T . ,., ./. , 

, would diminish his credibility and 

continue to make great sacn- , . ^ _ ' . 

fices of cherished projects and hn e ff ectwe shortly. 

personal preferences because ^ m _ mmmmmmm ^^^^ m __^ — mmmmm _^_^__ 
superiors have made decisions 

that require these sacrifices either directly or indirectly. That many men 
make these sacrifices and become reconciled to decisions they would never 

16 •!• John Langan, S.J. 

have made if left to themselves may strike many inhabitants of the culture of 
autonomy as alarming or regrettable; it impresses most Jesuits as a manifesta- 
tion of grace and reassures them that the voluntary and noncoercive bonds 
holding the Society together remain intact. Non-Jesuits may appreciate these 
sacrifices by analogy with the sacrifices that spouses and parents make within 
the setting of the family; people accept the modification, postponement, and 
renunciation of cherished projects for the sake of those whom they love. 
The reality of obedience in the Society has become loquacious and interac- 
tive—and this should be no surprise for anyone who knows more than one 
Jesuit. But it has not become an empty formality or a mere echo of the 
historic past, even though it has become in important respects a new social 

Contemporary Jesuits are not Thelemites: their experience of 
conflicting visions and demands is too real and too painful, too rich in its 
responses to the needs of Church and society, too venturesome in its 
engagement with contemporary culture and its conflicts for it to be captured 
by what is an amusing but ultimately insipid vision of how human beings 
are to live together happily while pursuing a shared set of values. 

A Framework for Understanding Contemporary Practice 

What follows here is a provisional listing of factors that need to be 
considered in the development of a realistic account of obedience in the 
contemporary Society of Jesus as well as in the large number of religious 
communities that look to developments within the Society for assistance as 
they formulate their own understanding of their way of life and its charism. 
I will be trying to move beyond the generalizing descriptions of the previous 
section and attempt to point out the fundamental elements in the concept of 
obedience, hoping to make them more intelligible to those who approach 
obedience after long immersion in the culture of autonomy. 

First, obedience is a commitment freely undertaken. Without the initial 
and continuing exercise of freedom, obedience is simply conformity to the 
desires or the power of another; and such conformity is not of any religious 
worth in itself. An act of obedience carried out in conformity with the vow 
is both a commanded act and a free act. 

Second, obedience alters in a fundamental way the source of the deci- 
sion. The point here is that the decision maker in acts where religious 
obedience is being exercised is in reality composite. In different ways, both 
the superior and the subject decide, the superior by issuing a command, the 
subject by choosing to obey the command. The action will not occur unless 
both concur. The action is in this sense intersubjective. It is thus liable to 

The Good of Obedience in a Culture of Autonomy 4* 17 

problems of misunderstanding and imperfect communication of the type that 
we usually encounter in intersubjective dealings. The action or decision will 
stand in different relations to the motivational systems and preferences of 
the two persons, which will likely overlap (since both are members of one 
religious community, have made the same vows, and have shared a broadly 
similar spiritual and intellectual formation), but which are not going to be 

Third, obedience involves a structured relationship in the making of 
decisions and in the life of a community, with one party, the superior, 
retaining the authority to decide and the other, the subject, accepting the 
obligation to act in conformity with the decision. The relationship continues 
beyond the particular moments of decision and can be assessed along a 
number of different dimensions. We are normally concerned with the 
emotional quality of the interactions between superior and subject (trusting, 
resentful, distant), with the way in which the relationship manifests the 
character of the persons involved (reliable, friendly, open, solicitous, with- 
drawn, sensitive to criticism), and with the moral and religious assessment of 
the relationship (faithful, generous, inspiring, exploitative, immature). 

Fourth, obedience is a relationship between persons who are fundamen- 
tally equals, that is, the superior and the subject are equal in human dignity, 
in their standing as creatures before God and as persons redeemed by Christ. 
By definition, the superior and the subject are not equal in authority; and 
the subject in taking a vow of 
obedience accepts a relation- — ^ ^— — — — ^^— 

ship of subordination not ^j ,. r i t- • A » o 

r , . . . The reality of obedience in the Soct- 

merely to this superior but to T T , . , . 

, I . ety has become loquacious and inter- 

anyone who occupies this or a J ■».»»•» 

similar position. But the rela- active-and this should be no surprise 

tionship is voluntary and not f or an J one who knows more than one 
necessary or natural. It is also Jesuit. But it has not become an 

reversible, since the superior empty formality. 

himself has taken the same 

vow of obedience as the sub- 
ject, who may in fact someday become his superior. The vow forms a gift of 
certain aspects of the self. The subject, like the superior, remains a person 
who has responsibility for his own growth as a moral and religious person, 
who has obligations of conscience, and who has to determine the shape and 
meaning of his own life. Both of these persons are fallible in their knowl- 
edge, limited in their sympathies, and imperfect in their progress to the 
fullness of life in Christ. 

18 •!• John Langan, SJ. 

Fifth, obedience is a virtue and value concerned with the living of a life 
and with the shaping of decisions in a way that is faithful to the standing of 
the person as a free and intelligent creature. It is not exhausted in the 
making of objects, the carrying out of tasks, or even the doing of deeds and 
the achieving of goals. It is thus not primarily an instrumental value; and its 
worth for the subject and for the superior as well as for the community is 
not to be appraised primarily in terms of the successful conduct of opera- 
tions or the accomplishment of tasks. In this respect it is fundamentally 
different from obedience in a secular organization. A religious may actually 
be commanded very rarely, but lives under obedience constantly. Obedience 
serves as a steady condition of his or her life, a defining relationship that, 
because it is a definite commitment, excludes certain possibilities and requires 
that other possibilities be approached in a certain way, for instance, by 
asking permission. 

Sixth, obedience is lived within a community. Certain matters may 
be decided by superior and subject acting within their structured relation- 
ship. But the superior leads a community (which is normally more than one 
individual), and the members of the community routinely interact with each 
other. The superior can and, for certain matters, is required to attend to the 
views of members of the community in consultative processes. The superior 
often takes advice from and chooses to act in parallel with other superiors. 
Some of the most important and difficult decisions a superior or chain of 
superiors may take have to do with the terms under which a community 
lives, for example, accommodations, allocation of resources, and with the 
continuation and orientation of its work. Other important and difficult 
decisions that bring together both communal and personal aspects of life in a 
religious community have to do with the resolution of conflicts among the 
members of the community. A religious community usually (but not always) 
functions on a scale in which face-to-face interactions are the ordinary way 
of sustaining shared values and working out problems. 

Seventh, the community bound together by obedience is itself 
included within and is subject to the discipline of the Church. Depending on 
the history and scale of the community, this will bring with it a requirement 
of obedience to the local bishop or to the Bishop of Rome. This juridical 
requirement is in addition to the obedience that all Christians owe to those 
who hold authority within the Church, an obedience whose limits and 
obligations are themselves contested in contemporary theology and practice 
but one that cannot be eliminated from the life of the Church. 

Eighth, in addition to this juridical requirement, the community 
will recognize the need to interpret its life as a form of service to the 
Church, its members, and the world. This form of service will vary depend- 

The Good of Obedience in a Culture of Autonomy •$• 19 

ing on the charism of the community, the needs of the local and the univer- 
sal Church, and the decisions of superiors and members of the community; 
it can take the form of contemplative and intercessory prayer, of artistic 
production, of educational and medical ministries, of charitable activities, of 
pastoral ministries, of spiritual formation and direction. The work may well 
have a form of organization and authority that is distinct from the organiza- 
tion of the community itself. This division has in fact become quite com- 
mon in the educational works of the Society, where it is not unusual to find 
both a religious superior or head of the community and a president or 
director of the work. This can produce conflict between those who hold 
authority in the two overlapping organizations, cognitive and normative 
dissonance in the members, conflicts of values between those more involved 
in the work and those more involved in the community. 

Ninth, these reflections have focused on the superior-subject rela- 
tionship. But we should note that one does not obey only a superior. One 
can also obey a specific command, a general norm or rule, a body of norms. 
One can act in conformity with the desires of the superior, the implicit or 
explicit wishes of the superior, the commands or desires of a higher superior 
(of whom there may be sev- 
eral layers), the spirit of a _____«_«______■_________«— ■__«- 

community and its founder, A religious community usually (but 

and the legislation of a gov- not a l wa ys) functions on a scale in 

erning body. The diversity of which f ace . t0 .f ace interactions are the 
these authorities and the vary- ordinary way of sustaining shared 

ing egrees o 1 cu ty values and working out problems. 

have in interpreting them sug- 
gest that, even when there is — — _————- ___ _______ 

genuine commitment and a 

desire to obey, there may continue to be lively disagreement about what 
obedience requires in a particular situation. Obedience channels but does not 
terminate processes of reflection, questioning, and interpretation. There is a 
casuistry and a moral deliberation internal to obedience. Obedience does not 
eliminate disagreement and uncertainty from the conduct of the religious and 
moral life. It is a travesty to present as the model of religious obedience a 
conformist individual who never questions or explores limits. 

Tenth, the ultimate objective for the person who has taken a vow 
of obedience is to do the will of God. This is itself a difficult notion requir- 
ing theological analysis; but it is also one of the basic points of Christian 
spirituality and prayer, and it evinces a desire that has been strongly felt 
both by ordinary Christians and by great mystics, and one that is definitive- 
ly expressed in several places in the New Testament, notably the Lord's 

20 •!• John Langan, SJ. 


Prayer and the Epistle to the Hebrews. Two conclusions leading in some- 
what different directions follow from this affirmation. The first is that 
searching to do the will of God without reliance on prayer is in effect to go 
up a blind alley. The second is that the point of obedience is not to do the 
will of the superior. The command of the superior is a very weighty indica- 
tion of the will of God for this religious in this situation and is not nor- 
mally to be overridden. But appeals to higher superiors are ordinarily 
available, and crisis situations may occasionally arise in which the command 
of the superior and the moral demand of conscience appear to be irreconcil- 
able. For the command of the superior is not an infallible indication of 
God's will; much less does it constitute God's will for the subject. The 
virtue of humility continues to be relevant for both the superior and the 
subject. The continued difficulty experienced by a subject of goodwill in 
accepting a command should be an occasion for the superior to reflect again 
on whether the command truly expresses God's will for this person. 

Eleventh, there are normally two goods brought into being by 
obeying the command of the superior. The first is the moral and religious 
good of obeying, of acting in accordance with one's prior solemn commit- 
ment. This good is present in acts of obedience, whether these are explicitly 
commanded or undertaken freely within the context determined by obedi- 
ence. The major exception to this claim about the goodness of obedience 
arises when the act commanded is manifestly sinful; then the act of obedi- 
ence does not have this moral and religious goodness. The constant tradition 

within the Church is that religious superi- 
^^^^^^^^- ^^^-^~— -^ ors J not have the authority to command 

rr-i i . r ^ . •.• acts which are manifestly sinful and that 

The heart of a positive . J , . . . . 

r i i- there is no requirement tor their subjects 

exposition of obedience , , l l l j 

t i t t t. r. • to obey them when what they command 

would, I believe, he in an {s manifesdy sinfuL In the absencCj how . 

account of the ministry ever> of reasons to think that the act com . 

and passion of Jesus as an manded is sinful, the moral and religious 

expression of obedience to goodness of obeying constitutes a good 

the will of the Father. reason for the subject to obey; this reason 

will in normal circumstances be sufficient 
— ^^-^^— ^^— — ^— both to ensure the goodness of the act and 

to motivate the well-disposed subject. Sec- 
ond, there is the goodness proper to the act being done, which will include 
the goodness of the consequences of the act as well as the goodness that it 
has as an exercise of human capabilities. This goodness is limited and 
incomplete and may be looked at from a number of points of view. Not 
every act performed under obedience is successful in achieving its goal or 
beneficial in its effects. The cognitive and affective limitations of the superior 

The Good of Obedience in a Culture of Autonomy •%• 21 

may make it more likely that he misses the point and commands or requires 
something which is less good or even harmful. But it is one of the responsi- 
bilities of the subject to look at the positive side of what is commanded as 
fully and generously as he can. This does not eliminate the possibility of 
asking the superior to reconsider or of appealing to a higher superior. It is 
an important means by which the subject incorporates the decision and the 
act commanded into his plan of life and endeavors to make something good 
of it, even when he may have serious reasons for doubting whether the act is 
a good thing to do. 

This enumeration of fundamental features of the practice of obedi- 
ence in contemporary religious life is very generic. It is not intended to 
show that obedience in religious life is always a good thing or the better 
course for an individual or a superior way of life. Rather, when taken with 
the previous section's description of the contemporary practice of obedience, 
it is intended to give the basis for a positive assessment of obedience as an 
element in religious life that can be understood by those who are in varying 
degrees committed to the culture of autonomy. Consequently, I have not 
explored here important aspects and different conceptions of obedience, 
some of which have been highly cherished within the Church, nor have I 
attempted a more positive, less defensive exposition of obedience. The heart 
of such a positive exposition would, I believe, lie in an account of the 
ministry and passion of Jesus as an expression of obedience to the will of the 

What Is the Good of Obedience? 

The two previous sections of this essay have been efforts to expli- 
cate the practice and the moral and social structure of obedience in the 
contemporary Society of Jesus. It is my hope that this account is in general 
both accurate and compatible with the values of the Society. It is also my 
hope that it contributes to the elimination of both positive and negative 
stereotypes of what the prac- 
tice of obedience in a contem- 
porary religious order is like. The virtue of humility continues to he 
More positively, I hope that it relevant for hoth the superior and the 
is possible to offer, in the subject. 

light of these general observa- 
tions, some reasons why even ■"^■^■~ 
those who have long been 

immersed in the culture of autonomy should be ready to recognize signifi- 
cant goods that are internal to the practice of obedience. In so doing, I will 
be offering what will seem to many to be a minimalist approach to justifying 

22 * John Langan, S.J. 

and commending obedience. This is not because I think that a more vigor- 
ous and robust approach to affirming obedience is not possible. There are, to 
be sure, considerations arising from the search for a deep personal identifica- 
tion with Christ and a strong, precritical love of the Church and its work 
and from the personal influence and persuasion exercised by individual 
Jesuits and other vowed religious. These considerations have an immediacy 
and an effectiveness that the more specialized considerations I will propose 
simply do not have. On the other hand, they are convincing and powerful 
for those who are already disposed to be committed; and they do not shed 
much light on the issues that occur to people who are torn between the 
culture of autonomy and the culture of obedience. 

I should also mention that I will avoid certain lines of argument 
which I think are simply unacceptable within the culture of autonomy and 
which are also at the same time theologically or psychologically unsound. 
These would include approaches commending obedience to us on the ground 
that it is better for us not to be free or not to take responsibility for the 
shape and meaning of our lives, or arguing that authority ought always to be 
obeyed or that we ought to adopt an attitude of blind trust toward those 
who exercise authority. 

In the contemporary situation, it seems to me that there are three 
main reasons why obedience should be esteemed as a good. These reasons 
demonstrate why it is that individual acts of obedience may have a kind of 
goodness appropriate to them that is in addition to the goodness that acts 
may have as an expression or instantiation of other virtues, such as charity, 
humility, and the like; they will demonstrate also why obedience as a 
constitutive feature of a way of life may help to make that way of life a 
good way of life. 

The first reason is that to vow obedience and to act in ways which 
fulfill the vow is to engage in an exercise of trust and commitment. The 
relationship arising when a religious enters a religious community bears 
some analogy to the commitment that the spouses make to each other in 
matrimony: "For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and 
health, until death do us part." Entering into such a commitment and 
observing it over time requires an ensemble of virtues of the sort enumerated 
by Paul in Col. 3:12-25: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, 
mutual forbearance and forgiveness, and, above all "love, to bind all together 
and to complete the whole." These are virtues that are necessary for the 
nourishment and maintenance of long-term relationships; they have to be 
cultivated for the health and peace of a community that is strong enough to 
make serious demands of its members. 

The Good of Obedience in a Culture of Autonomy 4* 23 

While the relationship between superior and subject has an impor- 
tant interpersonal element, it is fundamentally, of course, an institutional 
reality. The subject knows that in time, normally every six years, the 
superior will be replaced and the interpersonal element will have to be 
reconstituted. Also, the subject's concern is not to obey the superior as an 
individual, but to obey the superior as one who holds office and authority 
within the community. The subject's commitment and the superior's also 
(for the superior is not above the law and the community) is to the order, 
the community understood in the broad sense of all the members in union 
with the Church. The community, if it is to be a worthy object of trust and 
a sustaining reality in the lives of its members, must be trying seriously to 
be faithful to its distinctive religious inspiration, to what is often called the 
"charism of the founder"; and it must be striving to grow in faithfulness to 
Jesus Christ, who is the source, model, and goal of all religious communities 
in the Catholic tradition and who is the example of obedience to the will of 
the Father as a fundamental attitude of the soul. The existence and flourish- 
ing of communities of trust and commitment should be seen even in secular 
terms as an important good. 7 

The second reason for commending the practice of obedience as a 
good even in a culture of autonomy has to do with the transformation of 
the subject's hopes and desires and with the broadening of the focus of the 
subject's concern. Most contemporary moral and political philosophy in the 
English-speaking world is written on the assumption that we have to take 
people pretty much as we find 

them, that is, divided among w ~~ m , ^~~"" mmm ^ ^ "^~"""""" 
themselves about what things To vow obedience and to act in ways 
are really good, ready to quar- which fulfill the VOW is to engage in 

rel with each other about the an exerc j se f trust and commitment. 

distribution of those goods 

that nearly everyone wants — ■ ^ — — ^~~— ^~-— ^~—" ~" — l— ""■ 
(pleasure, wealth, power, es- 

teem), intent on maximizing the benefits that they receive as individuals, 
confused at best on the priority of moral and religious values, and wavering 
in their readiness to treat others with fairness and goodwill. They do not 
manifest the vicious egoism of the inhabitants of Hobbes's state of nature, 
but they manifest the moral variability of, say, the inhabitants of New York 

7 A secular interpretation of the value of religious communities can be developed 
on the basis of John Rawls's notion of social union presented in A Theory of Justice 
(Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1971), and alternatively on the basis of 
Robert Nozick's notion of demoktesis in Anarchy. State, and Utopia (Totowa, N.J.: 
Rowman & Littlefield, 1981). 

24 * John Langan, SJ. 

or Naples. On the other hand, it has been an essential element in the major 
traditions of spirituality, both Eastern and Western, that the desires of the 
individual as he or she first enters upon the spiritual journey are not to be 
accepted as being in proper order just as they stand. Both novices in the 
spiritual path and the masters of the tradition find that a long and demand- 
ing process of transformation of the heart and its desires is necessary if we 
are not to be led astray by "disordered affections." 

The life of obedience, which brings the subject into shared reflection 
with the superior about important decisions involving the priority of values, 
can clearly be a powerful aid to this process of transformation. It provides a 
social structure and an interpersonal setting within which the individual is 
willingly brought to confront possibly excessive and dangerous attractions to 
imperfect goods and to realize the hold of selfishness on his heart. This will 
be particularly true when obedience is not conceived as behavioral confor- 
mity to the commands of another who holds power, but as the commitment 
of a life to religious and moral values and to a community of other persons 
who have their own needs and their own perceptions of both the social 
situation and moral demands. This transformative effect of the practice of 
obedience is not something 
that is always achieved at 

once when the subject does Our affections and our hearts are of 
the act commanded, impor- ten educated by our actions and their 
tant as that ordinarily is; this effects. The religious practice ofobe- 
transformative effect may also ^^ ^ fa a modd Q jr Qm way 

require a considerable time • u- u ^ ^i u i l* jt 

\ . . in which people can be brought from 

and serious conversations with ... r . ,. ., ,. . ir , 

. . , ,. , a condition of individualistic selfish- 

one s spiritual director and . . ... 

i «.-«.«. 1 a ness to committed cooperation in the 

the opportunity to learn and r 

to experience in ways arising pursuit of the good. 

from the new situation — «^^—^««^^^»^^™«— i^— 

brought about by the act of 

obedience. Our affections and our hearts are often educated by our actions 
and their effects. The religious practice of obedience, then, is a model of one 
way in which people can be brought from a condition of individualistic 
selfishness to committed cooperation in the pursuit of the good. It is cer- 
tainly not the only way; and it is not the primary way for most people, for 
the school of love formed by marriage and the family is that. But it is a way 
that, because of its openness and flexibility, is a valuable example which can 
be made to serve many of the needs of the Church taken as a whole. 

The third reason why the practice of obedience ought to be es- 
teemed in the culture of autonomy is the structure that it provides for 

The Good of Obedience in a Culture of Autonomy •$• 25 

people to undertake a commitment of lifetime service in work that tries to 
meet the needs of diverse overlapping communities. These include the 
Church, the ecumenical religious community, political and civil society, 
various local and regional groupings, and the "ungroup" of those who are 
poor and marginalized, persons lost in the great social transformations of our 
time. This reason is especially important for Jesuits and for members of 
other apostolic (as contrasted with contemplative) religious orders. The 
commitment involved in obedience is not merely a commitment to a 
relationship; it is also a commitment to tb Q work needed for the develop- 
ment of the Church and for the expression of its character as the people of 
God. The religious is not committed by vow to a particular project or type 
of work; in fact, he subordinates his personal commitment to a project or a 
shared task to the larger commitment made to the Church. His personal 
commitment, valuable as it may be in itself, is taken up into the commit- 
ment of the religious community that interprets the needs of the Church 
and of the people in need of help. The Jesuit or other apostolic religious 
makes himself or herself available to the community and to the Church for 
the work. The stance of openness for service, of "apostolic availability," 
constitutes an effort at cooperation that can be applied within education, 
social work, intellectual research, the organization and empowerment of 
communities, health care, and many other areas of human concern offering 
significant social benefits recognizable across religious and ideological bound- 

The three reasons that I have proposed for acknowledging the good 
to be found in obedience correspond to three different, though not unre- 
lated, ways in which the person grows beyond a naive and often egoistic 
subjectivity in which elements of generosity and selfishness are spontane- 
ously intermingled and are often obscured by a lack of self-knowledge. These 
three ways are trusting relations with others in a community to which one 
makes the commitment of obedience, commitment to the transformation of 
one's own desires, and readiness to serve the needs of others beyond the 
community. Persons who have chosen to enter into a course of life in which 
these commitments are centrally important have some prospect of attaining 
the harmonious and unconstrained way of life to which the Thelemite 
dream aspires, but only after the long discipline of complying with the 
Ignatian demand as articulated both in the transformative prayer of the 
Exercises and the practical requirements of obedience. 

Bl. Pierre Favre, S J. 

Instructions for Those Going on Pilgrimage 

Favre probably gave these instructions for travelers to Alvaro Alfonso and Juan de 
Aragon, two court chaplains to the infantas Maria and Juana, daughters of Charles V. 
(]uana later became the one woman Jesuit in the history of the Society.) As an act of 
courtesy, they sent the two men to accompany Favre when he left Spain in 1542. The 
chaplains fell so much under his influence that they asked to join him. He later sent them 
on pilgrimage, fortified by these instructions. The text was preserved among the writings 
of Jeronimo Nodal, SJ. The instructions touch on a number of topics dear to Favre. This 
text, translated by the late Martin Palmer, S.J., is taken from The Spiritual Writings of 
Pierre Favre: The Memoriale and Selected Letters and Instructions (St. Louis: Institute 
of Jesuit Sources, 1996), 340-42. The translation has been slightly revised. 

IT ather Favre, at Mainz, when he was 

age[, wrote as follows]: 

Some persons want to be delivered 
from their woes— poverty, hunger, toil, 
and the like— by turning immediately to 
creatures in order to find help in them. 
Others turn to creatures, but do it 
through God, asking him that they be 
helped by creatures and through them 
delivered from their woes, as with per- 
sons who in time of need pray thus to 
the Lord for deliverance: "Lord, give us 
bread; give us this or that; move this 
man or that man," and similar petitions. 
But there are others, walking more per- 
fectly, whose desire is not to be deliv- 
ered from their woes, but to receive 
strength in the midst of them directly 
from the Lord. These persons ask him 
to grant them patience and courage, to 
take away their fear and similar emo- 
tions, so that they can bear their woes 
bravely. Their concern is for their inte- 
rior woes; they care not for the outward 
ones and cast aside all worry about 


asked for instructions for the pilgrim- 

them, as Christ has taught us. At the 
same time, they take care to guard 
against anything that smacks of tempting 

Sometimes timidity and weakness 
of spirit can weaken our bodies. Con- 
versely, robustness of mind can make 
our bodies robust. Hence, in our toils 
we ought to throw aside all fear, timid- 
ity, and so forth. The spirit will bear up 
our bodies. 

When eating, drinking, and convers- 
ing with others, we ought to aim not at 
winning their approval but at edifying 
their consciences. There are some who 
pay regard to other people's characters 
and behave in such a way as to get their 
approval as affable and good-natured; 
these do not so truly edify others' con- 
sciences. Those who are concerned 
about their consciences, on the other 
hand, strive to live in such a way that 



they will always be pleasing both to 
God and to anyone who at all times 
could not but express approval of what 
is right and good. 

Entering any city or town, we 
should call upon the angels, archangels, 
saints, and patrons of that city or town. 
We should greet them and call on them 
to assist us, just as we would in paying 
visits to men. We should converse with 
them and pray to them on behalf of the 
city or town placed in their charge. We 
should ask them to rule and guide it and 
on its behalf to beseech the Lord to 
move the hearts of its inhabitants to re- 
pentance and the like. We should also 
give thanks for the blessings that have 
been bestowed on those territories: the 
crops, the river, and so forth. As we 
consider how many enjoy these gifts and 
how few acknowledge them, we ought 
to render thanks in the name of all. 

Seeing strangers on the road, even if 
they are soldiers or other men, we 
should not allow ourselves to have any 
suspicions against them. Our thought 
should be that they are good people, and 
we should pray for their good and 
should in a way unite ourselves to them 
with a bond of charity and love. Thus 
we will rid ourselves of fear, rash judg- 
ments, and the like. And if anything 
untoward does befall us, we should take 
it as coming not from man but from 
God; for nothing can happen to us apart 
from his will. Taking it in this spirit, as 
from the Lord's hand, we ought to bear 
it patiently and calmly. 

Our words are of three kinds. They 
may represent our ideas, as when a per- 
son expounds in words some idea or 
insight he has had; these we could label 
"thought words." Again, some words 
serve to explain other words, as in the 
exegesis of Scripture and the like; these 

we could call "word words." Finally, 
some words recount things that we or 
others have done to the praise of God; 
these we could call "deed words" or "ac- 
tion words." Now, while it is true that 
people generally take pleasure in the 
first and second kind of words, which 
nourish our minds, still, since what peo- 
ple want most is to act, they get more 
pleasure from the third kind and find 
them more useful for life, because 
through them they learn ways, methods, 
and procedures by which they can act. 

Speaking of students, he [Favre] 
used to say that they should not take it 
ill to go back to learning the elements of 
Latin or basic logic, and the like. People 
would find it even harder to have to go 
back and learn how to speak their moth- 
er tongue, how to think at all, and so 
forth; yet that is just what God did. He 
became a baby and over a period of time 
acquired a mother tongue and began to 
know and understand by what is termed 
experiential knowledge. More than that, 
he went so far back as to have his feet, 
hands, and other parts of his body grow 
larger little by little. Rightly seen, this is 
an amazing thing even in ourselves— 
how much more so in God! 

He used to say that in all of God's 
gifts we should consider three aspects: 
the gift itself, the one who gives it, and 
his motive in giving. This will bring us 
to have a high regard for each and every 
gift, as is the case in our dealings with 
human beings when these three elements 
are present. It is by not directing our 
minds to these three things that we of- 
ten get a reputation for ingratitude, be- 
cause we fail to value the gift as we 

He used to say that just as in any 
major or difficult undertaking we care- 
fully plan out its execution beforehand, 



%&&&£■&&& <■>■>■■■■ '■■■■:■ yy-:-m-::;' ■ KWWA ■■■■■■': 

eager to perform it as perfectly as possi- 
ble, and then after its execution we look 
back with regret on any mistakes we 
have made, thinking, "Here or there I 
went wrong" — and similarly even with 
our conversations — in the same way we 
ought to plan out our prayer before- 
hand, saying, "I am going to make this 
prayer at such and such a time," filled 
with anticipatory eagerness to perform it 
with attention and devotion and to have 
it heard by God and so forth. And 
when it is over, we should examine any 
faults we may have committed and rue 
our mistakes. In this way, we will even- 
tually reach the point of praying with 
fruit. He used to say it was amazing 
what care we take about things we are 
going to do or say, and how negligent 
we are in the matter of prayer, even 

though prayer is more important than 
anything else we say or do, however 
good. We go to prayer negligently and 
we leave it cold. 

Simplicity and goodness should 
eventually get the upper hand over our 
natural way of thinking. That is to say, 
though on a natural level we might 
think it right to be angry or depressed 
over something, nevertheless, goodness 
and simplicity ought to put up with it. 
Sometimes we are interiorly anguished; 
and though this spirit may speak what is 
true, reproving us for our many failures, 
nevertheless, if it robs us of our tran- 
quillity, it is not the good spirit. The 
spirit of God is peaceful and gentle even 
in reproof. 



In the opinion of the undersigned 
"Juana, S.J." is an idea whose time has 
not arrived. Helping women to be 
Themselves by having them become 
Ours is radical but ill advised. Why not 
focus our attention on rehabilitating the 
word "obedience" for our individual and 
communal search for knowing and do- 
ing God's will? Not only is this radical 
but advisable and counter-cultural as 

James Swetnam, S.J. 

Pontifical Biblical Institute 
Via della Pilotta 25 
00187 Rome, Italy 


As a Jesuit who has been sixty- 
seven years in journalism and theatricals, 
I have consistently welcomed STUDIES 
this past decade. Judging from the pau- 
city of letters to the editor, I wonder 
about the enthusiasm of readers. 

So, I wish to make a small contri- 
bution to the McDermott-Fagin collo- 
quium in the current issue of STUDIES, 
as a non-theologian. [See STUDIES 31, 
no. 5 (November 1999): 42f., and 31, no. 
3 (May 1999): 1-23.-ED.] 

Briefly, their disagreement is about 
"fidelity." Father Fagin contends that 
"all Christians [must] search together for 
truth in dialogic community with differ- 
ent gifts" and confesses that we have 
suffered from a "too narrow understand- 
ing of 'fidelity' that does not acknowl- 
edge the voice of the Spirit in all Chris- 

This, to my mind, is basically Lu- 
theran, fully Protestant; and it explains 

why there are so many divisions of Lu- 
therans—a house divided. For what pur- 
pose did Rome convene nearly twenty 
councils "that encouraged informed and 
open discussions" on such varied inter- 
pretations and personal proclamations of 
these voices "of the Spirit" and condemn 
them as erroneous? 

In other words, there is but one 
true Church, one true voice, one truth, 
and one magisterium: "You are Peter, on 
this Rock is my Church." 

Martin McDermott is right quoting 
the whimsical poet: "I am faithful to 
you in my own fashion" (to myself). 

John J. Barrett, S.J. 

1615 Eighth Avenue 
Brooklyn, N.Y. 11215 

In the Novmeber 1999 issue of STUDIES, 
we extended an invitation to our readers 
to give us a brief personal reply to the 
question, "What challenges you as a Jesuit 
at the end of this millennium and at the 
beginning of the next?" The following let- 
ters were inspired by that invitation. 


As a reader of STUDIES, I neither 
dislike writing letters nor fail to find a 
challenge as a Jesuit. But preoccupation 
with the millennium is a matter for 
those who read the decimal-number sys- 
tem into the realm of real change. 

Not having any software vulnerable 
to the coming new year, I have given 
little thought to this event. Born during 
the first World War, I experienced some 
real epochs, like National Prohibition 
and the Great Depression. But none of 
these eras neatly corresponded to dec- 



Letters to the Editor 


ades. I remember the "Roaring Twen- 
ties"— my older cousin was in college— 
but they stopped roaring because the 
stock-market crash on Wall Street came 
in 1929, not because the next page on 
the calendar was 1930. 

In the Society I have never been 
impressed by conventional anniversaries. 
An anniversary is "golden" only for 
those conditioned to think of numbers 
with a base of ten. I never felt much 
difference between being in the Society 
forty-nine or fifty-one years. 

In this day, computers have, for 
practical reasons, made the binary sys- 
tem of numbers prevail. And having 
dealt with degrees, minutes, and seconds, 
I am at home with the base of six. The 
primary timekeeper in my room is a 
marine chronometer, faithfully ticking 
off time at the meridian of Greenwich; 
this means that when New Year's Day 
arrives, it will render revelry at Times 
Square an anticlimax. 

In the terminology of the Scholas- 
tics, the millennium is an "ens rationis." 
But that doesn't prevent me from dis- 
cussing challenges any old time. 

Frank Cosgrove, S.J. 

53 East 83rd Street 

New York, NY 10028 


The challenge for me in the new 
millennium lies in the grace of my an- 
nual retreat this year. I went into the 
retreat with the deepest feeling of desola- 
tion that I had experienced in my twen- 
ty-five years since ordination. I trembled 
as I told my director that I had lost all 
feeling of zeal, enthusiasm for ministry, 
availability, and desire for God's will. I 

felt utterly mutilated— castrated might 
even be a belter word. Ignatius's counsel 
about the grace of experiencing our 
weakness in desolation became my path 
to consolation and to my particular ex- 
amen for this year and probably the 
next. With my hands on his crucified 
feet, I beg the desire to do the Father's 
will; to be available to the whole Society 
to work anywhere in the world where I 
can make some small return for all he 
has given me. 

Jonathan Haschka 

Loyola House 
P.O. Box 21399 
Nairobi, Kenya 


Here's my reply. Not bookish, but 
personal and brief: 

When Ignatius first looked around 
for something that he and his followers 
could do for the Church, he went to the 
area where he saw the greatest need. So 
he first had them teach the rudes about 
their Catholic Faith. 

As we enter the twenty-first cen- 
tury, I see that the greatest need in the 
Church (in North America, at least) is 
the basic education of our young— those 
in grade school. The old parochial 
schools are disappearing (have already 
disappeared in many places), or have lost 
much of their clout. 

"As the twig is bent ..." Now we 
are receiving into our high schools and 
colleges young people who don't have a 
strong foundation in Catholic doctrine 
and practice; they have already imbibed 
much of the materialist and consumerist 
culture of our time. The CCD education 
that is given is not really enough to "un- 
bend" these twigs. 

Letters to the Editor 


I would like to see the Society- 
move in where the need is greatest today 
and get into grade-school education for 
both boys and girls, without, however, 
leaving our high schools. There are any 
number of other groups who can go for 
the big degrees and do the scientific re- 
search. We, the "shock troops of the 
Church," should mass our forces where 
the need is greatest. 

I don't mean just teaching religion, 
but teaching the whole nine yards of the 
grade-school curriculum, in a religious 
atmosphere. Public schools just don't 
cut it. 

That, my brothers, would entail 
some painful amputations, and would 
dismay many. It is a gigantic challenge! 
Can we take it up for the next genera- 
tion^)? Would this be to the greater 
glory of God? 

A sidelined teacher, 

Joseph A. Paquet, S.J. 

Campion Center 
319 Concord Road 
Weston, MA 02493-1398 


This letter replies to your request 
in the November 1999 issue of STUDIES, 
soliciting a response to the question: 
What challenges you as a Jesuit at the 
end of this millennium and at the begin- 
ning of the next? 

What challenges me as a Jesuit is 
what, I believe, challenges the Church 
and all believers in Jesus Christ. Since 
the discovery of organic and cosmic evo- 
lution, the Church as such has never 
related Christian revelation to what we 
now know of the real world that God 
created. From massive and basically in- 

contestable research, we know that the 
universe we live in is now more or less 
twelve to fourteen billion years old. 
Over the past several decades, this has 
been news to all human beings, includ- 
ing both scientists and others, believers 
and nonbelievers, the well educated and 
the less educated, from all laity through 
all clergy and all theologians. Concomi- 
tantly, today the size of the universe, 
though surveyed only approximately, is 
beyond anything that could have been 
reasonably imagined until very recently. 
Despite the massive study and research 
that has brought humankind this rela- 
tively new knowledge, many human 
beings inside or outside communities of 
Christian believers have hardly assimi- 
lated this knowledge theologically or 
otherwise. The Church cannot continue 
indefinitely to act and speak as though 
this knowledge did not exist. This is the 
world that God created. 

Recognizing the problem facing us 
is not answering it, or even addressing 
it. How can we situate ourselves and 
Christian belief in what we now for the 
first time know of God's creation? 

No matter how vast the universe is, 
we can situate ourselves in it spatially in 
the sense that we know that we are here, 
even though it might take a little doing 
to find out what here comes to in terms 
of the vastness of the universe. 

The question of time is more com- 
plicated. What is remarkable is that, al- 
though time is evanescent — "time flies" — 
we can situate ourselves in the universe 
in time rather well. Not in terms of the 
beginning of the universe, because we 
cannot date the beginning of the uni- 
verse with any precision if we can only 
say, "more or less twelve to fourteen 
billion years" ago. But in terms of well- 
known events in historical time datable 


Letters to the Editor 


from our present position in time as 
known in secular history, we can situate 
ourselves and the rest of the world 
around us in real time rather well. 

We know that, however old the 
universe is, in faith Christians relate to 
it in terms of the Incarnation of Jesus 
Christ and his life and death, which the 
Bible is careful to anchor in our secular 
time— not with total accuracy, to be 
sure, yet with the kind of accuracy with 
which we commonly work when deal- 
ing with matters in antiquity. But the 
anchoring faces ahead. We are not sup- 
posed to get back to the Incarnation or 
to anything else. Christian fulfillment, 
the second coming of Christ, lies ahead. 
This means that we had better incorpo- 
rate the insights of evolutionary studies 
into our Christian understanding of 
God's creation. Evolution faces the uni- 
verse in the present and the future. 
Nonevolutionary understandings of cre- 
ation have the future closed. A non- 
evolutionary secular history is simply 
false. A nonevolutionary understanding 
of the world in which God's revelation 
was given and now exists is theologically 

The urgency of situating ourselves 
in God's real creation, rather than in an 

imagined creation we are more comfort- 
able with, is intensified today not only 
because our knowledge of the real uni- 
verse is so vast and circumstantial but 
also because the place of humankind in 
the universe has been so radically chang- 
ing over the years. On January 22, 1985, 
I gave the Wollson College Lecture at 
Oxford University. Its title, fa Writing Is 
a Technology That Restructures 
Thought," means what it says. Writing 
has changed forever the relationship of 
human beings to creation. Later, print 
has changed this relationship even more. 
Electronics still more. With the com- 
puter, human beings are interacting with 
the evolving universe in ways not possi- 
ble earlier. With online contacts, we are 
operating not on a projected calendar but 
at the known point in time where the 
universe really is. 

The issue is urgent and complex— 
too complex to be handled as a full an- 
swer to your question. But this makes 
the question even more pressing. 

Walter J. Ong, S.J. 

University Professor Emeritus 

Jesuit Hall 

3601 Lindell Blvd. 

St. Louis, MO 63108 

Past Issues: Studies in the Spirituality of Jesuits 

(For prices, see inside back cover.) 

1/1 Sheets, Profile of the Contemporary Jesuit (Sept. 1969) 
1/2 Ganss, Authentic Spiritual Exercises: History and Terminology (Nov. 1969) 
2/1 Burke, Institution and Person (Feb. 1970) 
2/2 Futrell, Ignatian Discernment (Apr. 1970) 

2/3 Lonergan, Response of the Jesuit as Priest and Apostle (Sept. 1970) 
3/1 Wright, Grace of Our Founder and the Grace of Our Vocation (Feb. 1971) 
3/2 O'Flaherty, Some Reflections on Jesuit Commitment (Apr. 1971) 
3/4 Toner, A Method for Communal Discernment of God's Will (Sept. 1971) 
3/5 Sheets, Toward a Theology of the Religious Life (Nov. 1971) 
4/2 Two Discussions: I. Spiritual Direction, II. Leadership and Authority (Mar. 1972) 
4/3 Orsy, Some Questions about the Purpose and Scope of the General Congregation (June 1972) 
4/4 Ganss, Wright, O'Malley, O'Donovan, Dulles, On Continuity and Change: A Symposium 
(Oct. 1972) 
5/1-2 O'Flaherty, Renewal: Call and Response (Jan. -Mar. 1973) 
5/3 Arrupe, McNaspy, The Place of Art in Jesuit Life (Apr. 1973) 
5/4 Haughey, The Pentecostal Thing and Jesuits (June 1973) 

5/5 Orsy, Toward a Theological Evaluation of Communal Discernment (Oct. 1973) 
6/3 Knight, Joy and Judgment in Religious Obedience (Apr. 1974) 
7/1 Wright, Ganss, Orsy, On Thinking with the Church Today (Jan. 1975) 
7/2 Ganss, Christian Life Communities from the Sodalities (Mar. 1975) 
7/3 Connolly, Contemporary Spiritual Direction: Scope and Principles (June 1975) 
7/5 Buckley, The Confirmation of a Promise; Padberg, Continuity and Change in General 

Congregation XXXII (Nov. 1975) 
8/1 O'Neill, Acatamiento: Ignatian Reverence (Jan. 1976) 
8/2-3 De la Costa, Sheridan, and others, On Becoming Poor: A Symposium on Evangelical Poverty 
(Mar.-May 1976) 
8/4 Faricy, Jesuit Community: Community of Prayer (Oct. 1976) 
9/1-2 Becker, Changes in U.S. Jesuit Membership, 1958-75; Others, Reactions and Explanations 
(Jan.-Mar. 1977) 
9/4 Connolly, Land, Jesuit Spiritualities and the Struggle for Social Justice (Sept. 1977). 
9/5 Gill, A Jesuit's Account of Conscience (Nov. 1977) 

10/1 Kammer, "Burn-Out"— Dilemma for the Jesuit Social Activist (Jan. 1978) 
10/4 Harvanek, Status of Obedience in the Society of Jesus; Others, Reactions to Connolly-Land 

(Sept. 1978) 
11/1 Clancy, Feeling Bad about Feeling Good (Jan. 1979) 

11/2 Maruca, Our Personal Witness as Power to Evangelize Culture (Mar. 1979) 
11/3 Klein, American Jesuits and the Liturgy (May 1979) 
1 1/5 Conwell, The Kamikaze Factor: Choosing Jesuit Ministries (Nov. 1979) 
12/2 Henriot, Appleyard, Klein, Living Together in Mission: A Symposium on Small Apostolic 
Communities (Mar. 1980) 

Conwell, Living and E>ying in the Society of Jesus (May 1980) 

Schineller, Newer Approaches to Christology and Their Use in the Spiritual Exercises (Sept. -Nov. 
13/1 Peter, Alcoholism in Jesuit Life (Jan. 1981) 

13/3 Ganss, Towards Understanding the Jesuit Brothers' Vocation (May 1981) 
13/4 Reites, St. Ignatius of Loyola and the Jews (Sept. 1981) 
14/1 O'Malley, The Jesuits, St. Ignatius, and the Counter Reformation (Jan. 1982) 

14/2 Dulles, St. Ignatius and Jesuit Theological Tradition (Mar. 1982) 

14/4 Gray, An Experience in Ignatian Government (Sept. 1982) 

14/5 Ivern, The Future of Faith and Justice: Review of Decree Four (Nov. 1982) 

15/1 O'Malley, The Fourth Vow in Its Ignatian Context (Jan. 1983) 

15/2 Sullivan and Faricy, On Making the Spiritual Exercises for Renewal of Jesuit Charisms (Mar. 


15/3-4 Padberg, The Society True to Itself: A Brief History of the 32nd General Congregation of the 

Society of Jesus (May-Sept. 1983) 

15/5-16/1 Tetlow, Jesuits' Mission in Higher Education (Nov. 1983-Jan. 1984) 

16/2 O'Malley, To Travel to Any Part of the World: Jeronimo Nodal and the Jesuit Vocation (Mar. 


16/3 O'Hanlon, Integration of Christian Practices: A Western Christian Looks East (May 1984) 

16/4 Carlson, "A Faith Lived Out of Doors": Ongoing Formation (Sept. 1984) 

16/5 Kinerk, Eliciting Great Desires: Their Place in the Spirituality of the Society of Jesus (Nov. 1984) 

17/1 Spohn, St. Paul on Apostolic Celibacy and the Body of Christ (Jan. 1985) 

17/2 Daley, "In Ten Thousand Places": Christian Universality and the Jesuit Mission (Mar. 1985) 

17/3 Tetlow, Dialogue on the Sexual Maturing of Celibates (May 1985) 

17/4 Spohn, Coleman, Clarke, Henriot, Jesuits and Peacemaking (Sept. 1985) 

17/5 Kinerk, When Jesuits Pray: A Perspective on the Prayer of Apostolic Persons (Nov. 1985) 

18/1 Gelpi, The Converting Jesuit (Jan. 1986). 

18/2 Beirne, Compass and Catalyst: The Ministry of Administration. (Mar. 1986) 

18/3 McCormick, Bishops as Teachers and Jesuits as Listeners (May 1986) 

18/5 Tetlow, The Transformation of Jesuit Poverty (Nov. 1986). 

19/1 Staudenmaier, United States Technology and Adult Commitment Qan. 1987) 

19/2 Appleyard, Languages We Use: Talking about Religious Experience (Mar. 1987) 

19/5 Endean, Who Do You Say Ignatius Is? Jesuit Fundamentalism and Beyond (Nov. 1987) 

20/1 Brackley, Downward Mobility: Social Implications of St. Ignatius's Two Standards Qan. 1988) 

20/2 Padberg, How We Live Where We Live (Mar. 1988) 

20/3 Hayes, Padberg, Staudenmaier, Symbols, Devotions, and Jesuits (May 1988) 

20/4 McGovern, Jesuit Education and Jesuit Spirituality (Sept. 1988) 

20/5 Barry, Jesuit Formation Today: An Invitation to Dialogue and Involvement (Nov. 1988) 

21/1 Wilson, Where Do We Belong? United States Jesuits and Their Memberships Qan. 1989) 

21/2 Demoustier, Calvez, et al., The Disturbing Subject: The Option for the Poor (Mar. 1989) 

21/3 Soukup, Jesuit Response to the Communication Revolution (May 1989) 

22/1 Carroll, The Spiritual Exercises in Everyday Life Qan. 1990) 

22/2 Bracken, Jesuit Spirituality from a Process Prospective (March 1990) 

22/3 Shepherd, Fire for a Weekend: An Experience of the Exercises (May 1990) 

22/4 O'Sullivan, Trust Your Feelings, but Use Your Head (Sept. 1990) 

22/5 Coleman, A Company of Critics: Jesuits and the Intellectual Life (Nov. 1990) 

23/1 Houdek, The Road Too Often Traveled Qan. 1991) 

23/2 DiGiacomo, Ministering to the Young (March 1991) 

23/3 Begheyn and Bogart, A Bibliography on St. Ignatius's Spiritual Exercises (May 1991) 

23/4 Shelton, Reflections on the Mental Health of Jesuits (Sept. 1991) 

23/5 Toolan, "Nature Is a Heraclitean Fire" (Nov. 1991) 

24/1 Houdek, Jesuit Prayer and Jesuit Ministry: Context and Possibilities Qan. 1992) 

24/2 Smolich, Testing the Water: Jesuits Accompanying the Poor (March 1992) 

24/3 Hassel, Jesus Christ Changing Yesterday, Today, and Forever (May 1992) 

24/4 Shelton, Toward Healthy Jesuit Community Living (Sept. 1992) 

24/5 Cook, Jesus' Parables and the Faith That Does Justice (Nov. 1992) 

25/2 Donahue, What Does the Lord Require? (March 1993)-ONCE AGAIN AVAILABLE 

25/3 Padberg, Ignatius, the Popes, and Realistic Reverence (May 1993) 

25/4 Stahel, Toward General Congregation 34 (Sept. 1993) 

25/5 Baldovin, Christian Liturgy: An Annotated Bibliography (Nov. 1993) 

26/1 Tetlow, 77;e Most Postmodern Prayer (Jan. 1994) 

26/2 Murphy, The Many Ways of Justice (March 1994) 

26/3 Staudenmaier, To Fall in Love with the World (May 1994) 

26/4 Foley, Stepping into the River (Sept. 1994) 

26/5 Landy, Myths That Shape Us (Nov. 1994) 

27/1 Daley, "To Be More like Christ" (Jan. 1995) 

27/2 Schmidt, Portraits and Landscapes (March 1995) 

27/3 Stockhausen, I'd Love to, but I Don't Have the Time (May 1995) 

27/4 Anderson, Jesuits in Jail, Ignatius to the Present (Sept. 1995) 

27/5 Shelton, Friendship in Jesuit Life (Nov. 1995) 

28/1 Begheyn, Bibliography on the History of the Jesuits (Jan. 1996) 

28/2 Veale, Saint Ignatius Speaks about "Ignatian Prayer" (March 1996) 

28/3 Clooney, In Ten Thousand Places, in Every Blade of Grass (May 1996) 

28/4 Starkloff, "As Different As Night and Day" (Sept. 1996) 

28/5 Beckett, Listening to Our History (Nov. 1996) 

29/1 Hamm, Preaching Biblical Justice (Jan. 1997) 

29/2 Padberg, The Three Forgotten Founders (March 1997) 

29/3 Byrne, Jesuits and Parish Ministry (May 1997) 

29/4 Keenan, Are Informationes Ethical? (Sept. 1997) 

29/5 Ferlita, The Road to Bethlehem-Is It Level or Winding? (Nov. 1997) 

30/1 Shore, The Vita Christi of Ludolph of Saxony and Its Influence on the Spiritual Exercises of 

Ignatius of Loyola (Jan. 1998) 

30/2 Starkloff, "I'm No Theologian, but . . . (or So . . . )?" (March 1998) 

30/3 Torrens, The Word That Clamors (May 1998) 

30/4 Petrik, "Being Sent" (Sept. 1998) 

30/5 Jackson, "One and the Same Vocation" (Nov. 1998) 

31/1 Clifford, Scripture and the Exercises Qan. 1999) 

31/2 Toohig, Physics Research, a Search for God (March 1999) 

31/3 Fagin, Fidelity in the Church— Then and Now (May 1999) 

31/4 Schineller, Pilgrim Journey of Ignatius (Sept. 1999) 

31/5 Fullam, Juana, S.J: Status of Women in the Society (Nov. 1999) 

32/1 Langan, The Good of Obedience in a Culture of Autonomy (Jan. 2000) 

Antonio M. de Aldama, SJ. 

An Introductory 

Commentary on the 


An historical, documentary, interpretative, 

and spiritual understanding of the Jesuit 


Cloth: ISBN 0-912422-92-0 ♦ $22.95 

Paper: ISBN 0-912422-93-9 ♦ $16.95 

Antonio M. de Aldama, SJ. 
Jesuit Religious Life 

Part Six of the Jesuit Constitutions, on the 
distinctive character of Jesuit religious life. 
Paper: ISBN 1-880810-13-1 ♦ $14.95 

Pedro Arrupe, SJ. 
In Him Alone Is Our Hope 

The chief texts on the Heart of Christ that 
Fr. Arrupe wrote during his generalate. 
Paper: ISBN 0-912422-87-4 ♦ $6.00 

Jean-Yves Calvez, SJ. 
Faith and Justice 

The social dimension of evangelization, 
and an examination of Jesuit Congregation 
32's decree on faith and justice. 
Paper: ISBN 0-912422-49-1 ♦ $17.95 

Thomas H. Clancy, SJ. 

The Conversational 

Word of God 

A commentary on St. Ignatius's doctrine 
concerning spiritual conversation, using 
four early Jesuit texts. 
Cloth: ISBN 0-912422-33-5 ♦ $5.00 
Paper: ISBN 0-912422-34-3 ♦ $2.50 

Antonio M. de Aldama, SJ. 
The Formula of the Institute 

The sources, development, and meaning of 
this foundational Jesuit document. 

Cloth: ISBN 0-912422-55-6 ♦ $16.95 
Paper: ISBN 0-912422-56-4 ♦ $9.95 

Pedro Arrupe, SJ. 
One Jesuit's Spiritual Journey 

Autobiographical details of the late Jesuit 
general's life and work both before and 
during his generalate. 

Cloth: ISBN 0-912422-69-6 ♦ $10.00 
Paper: ISBN 0-912422-68-8 ♦ $8.00 

William V. Bangert, SJ. 

A History of the 

Society of Jesus 

The most comprehensive and up-to-date 
single-volume history of the Society of 
Jesus that is available today. 

Cloth: ISBN 0-912422-73-4 ♦ $21.00 

Philip Caraman, SJ. 

A Study in Friendship: 

Saint Robert Southwell 

and Henry Garnet 

The friendship that existed between 
English Jesuits Southwell and Garnet from 
1586 to Southwell's martyrdom, as this 
appears in their correspondence. 

Paper: ISBN 1-880810-15-8 ♦ $14.95 

TEL 314-977-7257 

The Institute of Jesuit Sources 

FAX 314-977-7263 

e-mail IJS@SLU.EDU 


The Spiritual Writings of Pierre Favre 

The Memoriale and Selected Letters and Instructions 

This is a long-awaited first full English translation from 
the definitive critical edition of Favre's works in the 
Monumenta Historica Societatis Jesu. 

A spiritual autobiography is a record of God's dealings 
with an individual and the person's response to God. Pierre 
Favre's Memoriale is fully in that tradition. 

Favre, the person whom Ignatius of Loyola thought the 
best director of the Spiritual Exercises, left as a legacy both a 
spiritual autobiography/diary traditionally called the Memoriale 
and a series of letters and instructions. 

The twenty-seven selected letters and instructions range 
across time, space and recipients, in time from 1540 to 1546, in 
space from almost one end of Western Europe to the other. 
The recipients include, among many others, Ignatius Loyola in 
Rome and Francis Xavier in India, King John III of Portugal 
and a confraternity of laypersons, and a Carthusian prior in 
Cologne and a group setting out on a pilgrimage. 

The introduction places Favre's life and work in its 
historical setting, discusses the characteristics of spiritual 
autobiography, deals with the discernment of spirits in Favre's 
work, describes the several versions of the text of the 
Memoriale^ puts in context the letters and instructions included 
in this volume, and tells what happened to the memory of and 
devotion to Favre after his death. 

xvi + 437 pp. Glossary, Indexes 
Hardcover: ISBN 1-880810-25-5 / $57.95 plus postage 
Paperback: ISBN 1-880810-26-3 / $39.95 plus postage 

The Institute of Jesuit Sources 
3700 W. Pine Boulevard, St. Louis, MO 63108 
Telephone 314-977-7257 / FAX 314-977-7263 


William A. Barry, S.J. 
"Our Way of Proceeding" 

General Congregation 34 chose to 
keep the Jesuit Constitutions as 
Ignatius wrote them, but to indicate in 
the text those parts that had been 
abrogated, modified, or explained in 
the years since the first general congre- 
gation approved Ignatius's document. 
And thus the authoritative version of 
the Constitutions that we now have 
includes both the constitutions that 
Ignatius wrote, and also a set of com- 
plementary norms. Fr. Bany has taken 
this authoritative version and from it 
selected sections that form a series of 
prayerful considerations, lasting over a 
period of some seventeen weeks (each 
subdivided into six days) and provid- 
ing rich and abundant matter for 
consideration, discussion, and prayer. 
The goal of this book is to give access 
to such an interior knowledge of the 
characteristic Jesuit manner of acting, 
or "way of proceeding," that one will 
almost instinctively act in this way. 

Paper: ISBN 1-880810-30-1 • $12.95 
Series iy n. 19 • pp. vii + 190 

Philip Caraman, S.J. 
Tibet: The Jesuit Century 

Between 1624 and 1721, on five occa- 
sions Jesuit explorers made their diffi- 
cult and perilous way to Tibet. The)' 
had no experience of others to guide 
them, and no maps. They encountered 
hardships and dangers that test mod- 
ern mountaineers with all their sophis- 
ticated equipment. One of their num- 
ber, Antonio de Andrade, was the first 
European to look down on the plains 
of Tibet; two others, Johannes 
Grueber and Albert d'Orville, search- 
ing for an overland route from China to 
India, were the first Europeans to reach 
Lhasa. Perhaps the most famous of the 
explorers was the Italian Jesuit Ippolito 
Desideri, who for five years lived with 
the Tibetans and studied their religion, 
language, and customs. 

Fr. Caraman's book gives the fasci- 
nating story of these adventurous 
European Jesuit travels across the roof 
of the world to meet in peace and 
friendship a people yet unknown to 
much of that world. 

Paper: ISBN 1-880810-29-8 • $14.95 
Series IY no. 20 • pp. viii 4- 154 

tel 314-977-7257 fax 314-977-7263 e-mail IJS@SLU.EDU 



An annual subscription is provided by the ten United States provinces 
for U.S. Jesuits living in the United States and U.S. Jesuits who are still 
members of a U.S. province but living outside the United States. 


One-year subscription rates: 

United States $15.00 

Canada and Mexico $20.00 

All other foreign destinations $22.00 

*** All payments must be in U.S. funds. *** 


Change-of-address information (please include former address label 
if possible) should be sent to 


Studies in the Spirituality of Jesuits 
3601 Lindell Boulevard 
St. Louis, MO 63108 

> SINGLE ISSUES (Current or Past): 

The price for single copies of current or past issues is $2.50, plus 
postage and handling charges. Double issues (for example, 5/1-2, 8/2-3, 9/1-2, 
etc.) are $5.00 each, plus postage and handling. 

The Seminar on Jesuit Spirituality 
3601 Lindell Boulevard 
St. Louis, MO 63108 

U.S. Postage 


St. Louis, Missouri 
Permit No. 63 




'■/"•"• ■/■■ '>'■■.-'* 

I ■/•-■'-•> " 

-•-;■"■-■•■ - :: .- ;:! 

■•-••■•••- '".*■■,■